By the time Easter makes its way onto our calendars and snow, at least in our corner of the globe, begins to melt, a variety of colored blooms are making their way out of the earth. In one year’s time, we have experienced all the seasons. An entire year of living. This year, perhaps more than any other, the hope and miracle of spring feel like a lifeline, a beacon we have been longing for, an igniting of a light inside us that has burned low, waiting to be fanned by the fresh air and sunshine of warmer, safer days.
So much life has happened this past year, even if it has been mostly in our own homes, in our pajamas, or behind our screens. Death has happened. And not just COVID deaths. Too many unusual and difficult deaths have nearly broke our spirits. There have been painful but needed social revolutions, political contention and angst, natural disasters, and more. A lot of water has traveled under our collective bridge. We are not the same people we were last Easter. We are different, changed.
So I’ve been asking myself, in what ways am I changed? Am I changed for the better?
One of my favorite writers, Ann Lamott, who has the unusual talent of being hilarious and irreverent on one page, but spot on revelatory the next, wrote in her book, Traveling Mercies, “I do not understand the mystery of grace. Only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
No matter what we have endured this year, Christ’s grace is not just sufficient, it is abundant. It is more than enough to heal us, renew our hearts and minds, elevate us, and restore our hopes. Teaching the power of this kind of grace – the kind that does not leave us where it found us, is of greatest importance to me when it comes to teaching my children.
So for the last 10 years I’ve been building traditions for my little family to celebrate Holy Week and come to know the life, character, and Atonement of our precious Jesus.
Over twenty years ago, when I was studying in Jerusalem, I went with a group of friends to St. Ann’s Church for an Easter Vigil service. St. Ann’s is right by the pool of Bethesda. It was the night before Easter Sunday and we were lucky enough to be in that Holy City during Passover and Christian Holy Days.
At the end of the service, candles were passed out. From one candle by the altar, every candle in the chapel was eventually lit. We passed a single flame around the room until there were dozens of tiny flames flickering in the dark. As the service ended, we sang an Easter hymn and quietly walking out into the Jerusalem night, a tangible reverence in the cool air. Up to that point in my life, I’m embarrassed to say I had never attended another Christian service beyond Latter-day Saint doors. I had been to synagogue with my childhood friend who was Jewish, but never to another Christian church, and I felt God’s spirit so strongly. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to know by experience, that anytime and anywhere someone speaks of Christ with love and adoration, the Holy Spirit rushes in to witness and testify of His divinity.
Later, when we lived in Washington, D.C., I went to an Easter vigil service with a friend at Trinity Church and the recessional had the same effect on me. I loved the symbolism of lighting a candle on that day of waiting for the Light of the World to rise on Easter morn. Our small lights were quiet shouts into the star-filled sky that we knew Christ lived – that His Light, like the morning sun, can illuminate our lives and splinter any darkness.
When we moved to Utah with our young family, I decided I would create my own Easter Vigil. I made some lanterns out of mason jars, and on Easter Eve, we lit our little candles and hung them on a tree in our front yard. The flames danced in the evening breeze and I sat in our front room after my kids had gone to bed and watched with wonder our tree with the lights in it. It was our small declaration to the world that we believed.
That was how we started building Holy Week traditions into our family life. Over the years we’ve added new practices. On Palm Sunday we make an Easter Tree by cutting branches from one of our fruit trees. We tie ribbons and small images of the Savior’s life, an idea I gleaned from writer, Ann Voskamp. On Tuesday or Wednesday we walk around the templein memory of Christ’s second cleansing of the temple and His instructions there. We do an Easter walk, which is kind of like a nature treasure hunt where you find items that remind you of the Easter story. This was a favorite for my young children. (More detail in the children’s book by Deborah Rowley). We eat a Passover Meal on Holy Thursday, make hot cross buns on Good Friday, and more.
Below is a PDF with New Testament readings and a summary of what happened each day of Jesus’ last week, our traditions, and Latter-day Saint bible videos you can watch. We’ve also listened to St. Matthew’s Passion and Rob Gardner’s Lamb of God musical portrayal. And if you haven’t watched The Chosen TV series yet, I highly recommend making it part of your Holy Week – just load the app on your device.
Now, let me say one thing about our traditions. Things never go quite as I envision them. Someone usually has a meltdown or I’m left sitting at our passover meal by myself because all the kids downed their food then ran off, and my husband had to work. I try to be flexible, shuffle things around, or leave them out if it’s too hard to fit in. But over the years, some of the most sweet and powerful teaching moments we have had with our children have happened during Holy Week, as we’ve have tried to help them understand the events that took place during the last week of Jesus’ life, and what His sacrifice means for them.
Holy Week Study and Traditions
Palm Sunday — Triumphal Entry
After spending the Sabbath in Bethany with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Jesus journeyed up the hill to Bethphage where His disciples obtained a donkey, so He could enter Jerusalem “riding upon an ass” – fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy and indication that He would come in peace. Believers spread their garments before him and waved palm branches, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest.”
- Read Matthew 21: 1-11 and Luke 19: 35-38
* Create an Easter Tree — Cut some branches to bloom inside, put them in a large vase and
decorate your Easter Tree with ribbons, egg ornaments (most craft stores have some before spring) and small images of the Savior’s life. You can find lots of art images on the web to print and cut at home.
Monday — Second Cleansing of the Temple
This was three years from the first cleansing when Jesus referred to the temple as “My Father’s house.” The last week of His life, He described the temple as, “My house.” Then He healed the blind and lame, and blighted the fig tree – symbolic of Christ’s detest for hypocrisy and proof that He had power over life and death. Then He returned to Bethany.
- Read Matthew 21: 12-16, Mark 11:17, and Matthew 21: 17-22
- Watch the Cleansing of the Temple
- Easter Walk — Go on a nature treasure hunt for items that represent parts of the Easter story.
Read or talk about the Easter story and find the following:
- Something thorny or sharp to represent the crown of thorns
- Something made of wood to represent the cross
- Something dead to represent the Savior’s death
- Something dark to represent the darkness at noon in Jerusalem and America – Something hard and round to represent the stone placed in front of the tomb – Something alive to represent that Jesus lived again
(See Deborah Rowley’s picture book, Easter Walk, for more details.)
Tuesday and Wednesday — Questioning at the Temple/Teachings and Parables
Jesus was questioned at the temple mount by the temple hierarchy (Scribes and Sanhedrin), by the Herodians (who sought to bring down any other religious leadership), the Sadducees (faction of the Jews that disagreed with the Pharisees – particularly on the doctrine of Resurrection, believed only in the written law – not the oral law), and finally by the Pharisees (self-assumed teachers – practiced strict observance of the written and oral law). Jesus taught many parables, instructed His disciples, gave the Olivet Discourse, and lamented over Jerusalem. Then He returned to Bethany to prepare for the events ahead. While staying with Simon the leper, Mary of Bethany anointed His head.
* Tuesday: Read Luke 20: 1-20, Mark 12: 28-34 and Watch Christ’s Authority is Questioned, Render unto Ceasar, and The Greatest Commandment.
- Wednesday: Read Mark 12: 41-44, Matthew 23: 23-30 note JST, Matthew 23:27-29, Matthew 24 (Olivet Discourse/Signs of Second Coming – reference Mark 13 and D&C 45), Mark 14: 3-9
- Perform temple work, Family history, walk nearby Temple grounds, or visit another holy sanctuary of your choice.
Holy or Maundy Thursday — Last Supper and Gethsemane
Maundy comes from the Latin word, “Mandatum” which means “commandment.” It references the scripture, “A new commandment I give unto you.” (John 13:34) The Last Supper was held in a large upper room in Jerusalem. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was instituted. The Savior washed the feet of His disciples. Judas was revealed as betrayer. Jesus offered the high priestly or intercessory prayer (John 17). They sang a hymn then He left the upper room for the Mount of Olives and entered the Garden of Gethsemane. There, Jesus took upon himself the sins of all mankind, bled from every pore, and began the “awful Atonement.” He was arrested and taken for trial.
- Read Mark 14: 12-26 note JST, Luke 22: 19-39, John 13 – 17 / Matthew 26: 36-56, Mark 14: 32-50, Luke 22: 41-46
- Prepare and eat a Passover Meal — (modified or traditional versions of Seder available online).
Light candles and sing a hymn at the table. During the day offer some kind of selfless service reminiscent of the washing of feet and the Savior’s great love evidenced through His suffering.
Good Friday — Trial and Crucifixion
Jesus endured an illegal trial before Annas Caiaphas (the high priest). He was accused of sedition. Later He was charged with blasphemy, the most serious charge in Jewish law. The cock crowed and the Lord’s prophecy of Peter’s denial was realized. Jesus was delivered to Pilate, the Roman Governor, so an official decree of death could be issued (capital punishment had been taken away from the Sanhedrin.) Pilate, upon finding no fault in Jesus, pawned him off to Herod. (Jesus was a Galilean and Herod was the vassal over the Galilean province.)
Both Herod and Pilate were in Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus refused to answer Herod and was returned to Pilate, who was willing to let Him go free, as it was the custom to release one prisoner during Passover, but the people called for Barrabas to be released. “His blood be upon us and our children.” Pilate was convinced to move ahead with the crucifixion. Jesus was scourged. Jesus made the long walk to Golgotha, with aid from Simon of Cyrene (Way of the Cross). Jesus was crucified and nailed to the cross. About noon there was a great earthquake that rent the veil of the temple. And then there was darkness. Three hours later Jesus said “into thy hands I commend my spirit” and gave up the ghost. Joseph of Arimithea petitioned for Jesus’ body and took it down from the cross before the Sabbath, incompletely prepared it for burial, then laid it in the tomb.
- Read Matthew 26: 47-75, Luke 22:48, John 18: 4-12 / Matthew 26: 1-25, John 18: 33-38 / Mark 15: 15-47, Luke 23: 34, 46, John 19
- Watch Jesus is tried by Caiaphas, Condemned before Pilate, Scourged and Crucified, and Laid in a Tomb
- Make Hot Cross Buns — We love the Pioneer Woman recipe. English folklore says that Hot
Cross Buns baked on Good Friday never spoil. Some sailors took Hot Cross Buns on their voyages to ensure their ships wouldn’t sink. Friends who gift one another with Hot Cross Buns every year are said to remain friends for life. Deliver some buns to neighbors or friends!
Saturday — Jewish Sabbath Observance/Day of Waiting
On this day Jesus’ voice came to the Nephites. He did not appear, but they heard His voice (3 Nephi 9:13-17). He preached to the spirits in prison (D&C 138). None of Jesus’ disciples or followers came to the tomb this day. They observed the sabbath and the women anticipated returning at first morning light to finish caring for His body. This was a day of waiting for the risen Lord.
- Color Easter eggs
* Easter Vigil — Make lanterns out of mason jars (any size). Fill jars with dry beans and a votive
candle. Wrap a light gauge wire around the top of the jar then thread more wire through both sides to create a handle so it can be hung. Light your lanterns at dusk and hang them from a tree or set them on your porch — a symbol of waiting for the Light of the World to rise (John 8:12). An expression of gratitude for His gift of resurrection that will come to all of God’s children. A quiet witness of Jesus Christ.
Easter Sunday — Resurrection and Appearances of Jesus
Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James), Joanna and other women, came early to the tomb to complete Jesus’ burial. They found the stone rolled away. Two angels greeted them and declared Jesus had risen. They left to tell the apostles. Mary Magdalene returned to the empty tomb. Jesus appeared to her. She became the first witness of the Resurrection. Additional sightings: Resurrected Jesus appeared to two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. He appeared to His Apostles and dispelled Thomas’ doubt. He appeared to the Apostles in Galilee, then made His Ascension.
- Read Luke 24: 1-12, Luke 24: 13-15 / John 20: 11-18 / John 20: 24-30 / Luke 24: 39-40, John 21: 1-18
- Watch Jesus is Resurrected, To This End was I Born, My Kingdom is Not of this World, He is Risen, Christ Appears on Road to emmahttps://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/bible-videos/videos?lang=eng
- Get up early for a Sunrise Walk or hike. Make a Resurrection Garden by using rocks and flowers from your yard to build a small garden tomb. Look online for other ideas. Fill Easter Baskets. Attend Church Service. Hold a Family Brunch or Dinner.